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Community Dental Health Coordinator programs expand

Longtime supporter Henry Schein offers scholarships for 4 in Arizona

March 20, 2017

By Michelle Manchir

Kathy Messinger is only six months into her Community Dental Health Coordinator program at Rio Salado College, but the dental hygienist for more than 20 years has already discovered ways the training has improved her work with patients at a federally qualified health center in Walla Walla, Washington.

"People are very receptive to conversations that involve motivational interviewing," said Mrs. Messinger, referring to one of the principles taught in the program. "They seem very much engaged in our conversations when you can find what motivates them. It just makes a big difference in how patients listen to you."

The ADA-developed education program that Mrs. Messinger joined trains community health workers to help meet the needs of the dentally underserved in rural, urban and American Indian settings.


Mr. Winter
In 2006, the ADA invested more than $7 million in the pilot program and Henry Schein, Inc. donated almost $900,000 in equipment to support CDHC students' education and training.

Today, CDHC programs have spread to four schools, with six more schools planning programs to launch later this year or in 2018. The program has produced 53 CDHC employees across the country, with 12 states formally endorsing the program.

In 2016, Henry Schein expanded its support of the program, which for most students takes about a year to complete, by donating more than $30,000 to cover tuition for four students at Rio Salado College in Tempe, Arizona.

Mrs. Messinger is one of those students. She said she hopes taking part in the program will assist her in working with homebound diabetic patients and incorporating an integrated oral health program at the health center in which she works.

Mrs. Messinger's intentions match what Steve Kess, vice president of global professional relations for Henry Schein, said are some of the essential goals of the CDHC program.

"Improving oral health literacy in communities needs a champion and we believe the CDHC is the best champion for that," said Mr. Kess.

The CDHC program is unique and valuable because it attempts to combat patient barriers to dental care such as language, transportation, education, poverty, geographic and culture to help connect patients with care and improve the quality of life in communities, said Mr. Kess.

Jenna Linden, a CDHC/dental hygienist who is the clinical director at a Wisconsin nonprofit that serves uninsured and Medicaid children up to age 19, graduated as part of the CDHC pilot program in 2010.

She said the program made her an effective advocate for her patients' oral health.

"One of the unique features of the CDHC program is that it strives to educate students within the community they will work in, and this gives them the unique advantage and perspective of knowing, often firsthand, what barriers and obstacles their local population encounter when it comes to accessing dental care," said Ms. Linden.

The program takes place largely online, so students who benefited from the Henry Schein scholarships were not limited geographically.

For Tyler Winter, that's good news. The clinical dental assistant at a federally qualified health center in Fargo, North Dakota, first heard about the CDHC program at an annual meeting of the American Dental Assistants Association during a discussion about barriers to dental care.

Just two months into the program, Mr. Winter told ADA News the program is covering topics such as health literacy that will help him better communicate with the Medicaid patients he serves.

Another recipient of a Henry Schein scholarship, Mr. Winter said, "It may be overly sentimental to say, but almost everything about the program has been insightful. I have been working at a federally qualified health center for five years, and I'm finding out that I'm doing things in that role that now make sense to me," adding that he thinks the program would benefit "anyone working in dentistry."

When he finishes his CDHC training, Mr. Winter said he hopes to help expand the school-based sealant program his health center oversees and help improve the center's teledentistry services.

"This is on to something really big," Mr. Winter said of the CDHC program. "I think it will continue to take off."